Do You Really Need a Smart Scale?

Fitbit Aria 2
 Fitbit

When everyday items (running shoes, water bottles) go high-tech, it can be hard to differentiate between the needlessly gimmicky and the truly useful. In the case of scales, the smart ones are actually smart.

They don’t look much different from typical scales. And, unlike most new tech gadgets, there’s next to no learning curve. Just step on it. In addition to weight, it has the ability to measure body composition, including muscle and body fat percentages. Often they throw in bone mass and water percentage, too. Prices range from around $30 to $100-plus. (The Fitbit Aria 2, seen above, will set you back $130.) If you already use a health app that has a smart-scale option (such as Withings or Qardio), that’s the easiest.

These scales give only a rough estimate of body composition, so don’t live and die by the number. But when you step on the scale under the same conditions (such as time of day and hydration level), it can track trends over time.

For those working toward weight loss, a smart scale can keep you motivated. After a stretch of time losing two or three pounds a week, you might plateau. A smart scale could tell you that, in fact, your body fat percentage is dropping, even if the scale doesn’t budge.

And if you’re looking to gain strength, a regular scale will tell you you’re gaining weight but not that the poundage is muscle.

The other big advantage to smart scales is effortless tracking. “Behavior science suggests it’s important to record weight to evaluate progress, identify patterns, and reverse small weight gains before they become problems,” says Graham Thomas, an associate professor at the Brown University Weight Control Center in Providence. Simply step on the scale—at least once a week, as often as daily—and the data are automatically sent to an app that can graph changes over time and alert you when things are getting off-kilter.

Of course, tools are only beneficial when you use them, Thomas says. If you have a cache of fitness gadgets gathering dust, buy a basic $15 scale and spend the difference on something that will actually motivate you, like bike equipment or a healthy-cooking class.

[$130; fitbit.com]